Thursday Mail Bag
If the NHL Players Association has its way, we may soon see the end of the NHL All-Star Game as an annual event.
|TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO|
|Glenn Healy now taking care of deals for the players.|
The union, you see, has a grander plan, one in which an annual break in the NHL season would take place every February, and depending on the year it would be filled by the Olympics, a World Cup, an all-star game or perhaps a spectacular hockey convention.
“It would be a win for everybody,” said former NHL goaltender and broadcaster Glenn Healy, now the NHLPA’s director of player affairs. “We’ve got to sell the game.”
Part of the selling of the game, to the union, is the World Cup of Hockey, which took place in 1996 and 2004, and is now tentatively scheduled for 2011. Healy says the players are “overwhelmingly” in favour of having a World Cup, and the union would prefer that it took place in February of 2011, rather than in the August/September slot in which the Canada Cup, and then the World Cup, has taken place.
“(February) is the time when we believe it would be the best time to do it,” said Healy. “That way every February the fans would know they’re getting something special - the Olympics, the World Cup, the all-star game or something else.”
According to Healy, however, the NHL isn’t onside with taking a break in the season every February for a week to 10 days, with the Olympics, World Cup and all-star game filling the open period.
“The league isn’t with us on February yet, but there is potential,” he said. “They worry it would be devastating to their business. We think it would be invigorating.”
The 2004 World Cup, which took place just before the players were locked out for the entire 2004-05 NHL season, generated about $7 million in profits, which was split evenly between the league and the union. But Healy rejected the criticism made in this space earlier in the week that the tournament is just a convenient cash grab for the union when it needs to build reserves to fight an upcoming labour battle.
The 2011 World Cup would take place a year before the current NHL-NHLPA collective bargaining agreement expires.
“It’s not a cash grab,” said Healy, saying the union’s share of the World Cup is relatively small compared to the size of a war chest needed when there’s the threat of a major labour confrontation with the league.
“In an ideal world, this league needs owners and it needs players, and there’s a deal somewhere out there to be had.”
Now on to this week’s bursting mail bag:
Q: Your thoughts on the Claude Lemieux signing? Here is a top three club, solid seemingly in all areas, yet go out and bring in Claude Lemieux. For what? I don't think this team needs a spark or anything else this guys provides. I not going to buy his playoff performances in the past as part of your answer.
Michael Nestlehut, Harper Woods, Michigan
A: It’s a fascinating move by Sharks GM Doug Wilson. On one hand you have a veteran pro well past his prime being injected into the lineup of a team that has been the NHL’s best so far. On the other hand, Lemieux is one of the better playoff performers of the past 25 years in the NHL, and the Sharks have for several years now lacked the critical ingredients to get it done at playoff time. There’s little precedent for this kind of maneuver to work, and it seems very unlikely that Lemieux will be able to contribute in a major, meaningful way. But if he’s on the San Jose roster at playoff time and getting shifts in big games, it will be a fascinating process to watch.
Q: Hi, Damien.
I was at the World Junior Hockey tournament in Ottawa as you were. I watched Leaf prospect Jimmy Hayes who played for the U.S. team. My view was that he is going to be a long term project. He has the size to be a possible productive power forward, scoring a couple of goals around the net, but he does not seem to have soft hands or any special hockey sense. What is your impression?
David Cameletti, Guelph, Ont.
A: Saw very little of the kid because U.S. coach Ron Rolston seemed disinclined to play him much. Leaf scouts, I can tell you, were left frustrated by that, as well. Hayes certainly has size and he can move, and his coaches at Boston College seem to like him a lot. This is going to take some time to play out, and it certainly seems like the best plan would be to leave Hayes in college for at least three seasons, let him grow and fill out, and then see where his game is then. He seems to have a bit of moxy, for after he scored against Canada in the New Year’s Eve classic at the world junior championships this year, he was the one who taunted the Canadian bench, prompting a similar response when Canada scored a few minutes later.
Q: Hi Damien,
I enjoy and respect the job you do and enjoy hearing and seeing you on radio and TV.
Please tell me what you think of the following: Leafs without a captain. I think the Leafs really need someone to look up to, go to, etc. as a leader. Not having a Captain, is like not having a person a work watching over what goes on, and if someone is dragging their rear end, they are told about it. Having a peer in hockey (captain) tell you to get the lead out, would be far more effective than a coach telling you in my opinion. Especially if that person was one who shows by example.
Now I know it's a little early to tell, but, no one busts their but more than Jason Blake. When he gets the puck, he owns it, mainly because no one can catch him. The past 10 games or so, he has been one of the top three players in almost every game. A captaincy would probably spur him to bigger and better things. Personally, I was not too happy to hear of the criticism from various reporters about his attitude. Don't forget, this guy last year was diagnosed with cancer, albeit, treatable.
If you were in his shoes, do you think you would be able to focus totally on your job. I wouldn't be able to for a while. We are now seeing the (40 goal).
Jason Blake at his best. He won't get 40, but that 5-point night is a start. Another candidate: Dominic Moore.
Your comments please.
Joe Bagnato, Mississauga
A: I think Blake would be a terrible choice as captain. It’s good for the Leafs that he’s turned his game around, but over the course of his career he has consistently had trouble being liked by teammates and coaches wherever he has played. He’s just not a leader type of player, and the best that could happen to the Leafs, in my opinion, would be for Blake to play well and then have another team become willing to absorb his big contract before the trade deadline. It’s a lot easier to trade players when they’re hot than when they’re as icy cold as say, Nik Antropov.
I like Moore very much, and he certainly has leadership abilities. I just don’t think he’s been with the Leafs long enough, and as the club gets better he’s likely to find himself in a third- or fourth-line role. Ideally, you want your more prominent players to assume the captaincy, and right now I think there’s a very good chance the Leafs will go without a captain for next season as well. The idea should be that a certain player should earn the respect of his teammates and become captain, rather than taking a player, making him captain and then hoping he earns the respect of his teammates.
Q: Hi Damien,
I occasionally read the name of Dmitri Vorobiev still being touted as a Leaf prospect. I am wondering what his story is? Is he a decent prospect and will he ever come to North America and play for the Leafs or any another team in the NHL?
Rory Parisien, Montreal
A: Vorobiev was the 157th player taken in the 2004 draft by the Leafs. An offensive defenceman with a big shot, he plays for Lada Togliatti in the KHL and played for the gold medallist Russians at last spring’s world championships in Quebec City and Halifax. So far, he hasn’t shown much inclination to come to North America to play, and as the de-European-isation of the Maple Leafs by Brian Burke moves forward, it certainly seems unlikely the Leafs will be chasing him.
Q: Hi Damien,
Quick question: given the Habs all seem to have a hate on for Mikhail Grabovski, how do his Leafs teammates like him?
Geoff Read, Thunder Bay
A: All indications are he’s fitting in well with the Leafs. His problems with the Habs seem to emanate from the way he behaved when he wasn’t playing - going ahead of his team on a road trip to California to consult with his agent - and from a personal feud he seems to have going with his Belarussian countrymen, Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn. Maybe it’s a girl, maybe it’s a poker debt, but Grabovski and the Kostitsyns just don’t get a long.
Q: Hey Damien,
Ever since the John Ferguson Jr. fiasco went down in Toronto I've started to pay attention more at how other teams operate. As time goes on, it's appearing more and more like Steve Tambellini in Edmonton may become Fergie part 2. In your opinion does he have the power to turf Craig McTavish? If he does, then why hasn't Mac T's name come up in conversations about coaches who are in danger of losing their jobs?
Also, as a London Knight fan I feel badly for Robbie Schremp. Is he really that undeserving of a REAL shot in the pros, why don't they trade him?
Jerry Miller, London, Ont.
A: I think MacTavish’s name has come up in conversations about coaches in danger of being fired, and frequently. Regarding Tambellini, he’s a very experienced executive who has waited for the chance to run his own team, but clearly Kevin Lowe remains very involved with how the Oilers are run. Who has what power isn’t clear, but it sure seems Lowe and Tambellini are sharing the responsibilities even though Tambellini is the GM.
Re Schremp, can’t say I know why it hasn’t worked, although you’d wonder about his skating with a team that loves to play at a high speed. He’s had very few chances with the Oilers and hasn’t been able to put up numbers when he has. Drafted in 2004, you’d have to believe that if he doesn’t get a long look at some point this season, it will be time to move on.
Q: Hi Damien,
To make a long story short, I just came back to TO after living 15 years abroad in a land where there is no hockey, not even on TV. Anyways, it is a different game from when I left, the NHL in itself is a lot more dull than it was in the early nineties, when I last saw the game. The one that bothers me the most, is the parity among the teams due to the salary cap.
Why doesn't the NHL apply a luxury tax like the NBA, but only teams with sound financials being able to exceed it, and the taxed dollars going to the poorer NHL teams and thus let the teams that want to compete, compete?
And regarding the Winter Classic location for Toronto, how about Nathan Phillips Square? Smack dab in the heart of the city.
Jaime Sandoval, Port Credit, Ont.
A: A luxury tax is an interesting notion, and there are those who would like more flexibility built into the system. That said, I will tell you that the NHL believes it is getting exactly what it wants from the cap system, which is cost certainty, an even playing field and parity. Big market teams may want a system that gives them more room to acquire players, but there’s likely to be little support for that among the Edmontons and Buffalos of the NHL world.
Nathan Phillips Square? I think you can fit a rink in there, a small one, and then you’d have to build up temporary stands, I suppose. Hey, anything’s possible. The NHL loves this outdoor gimmick and is going to run with it as far as it possibly can.
Q: Hey Damien. Guys like you have been preaching to ditch aggressive intense hockey and go more to skilled fancy skating players. Where the players blow kisses at each other, as opposed to body checks. Well we've seen your style of hockey on full display (Jan. 13). All the dipsey doos and pirouettes and nary a body check in site. Too bad the fans fell asleep. Damien you'll learn your Pollyanna world for hockey is unworkable. All turning the other cheek does is get your other cheek slapped. Thank god Brian Burke is the man, not you. Hockey has, will and will always be a game for men with bad tempers. Those who don't like it, watch baseball?
Because I'll tell ya, even a baseball game would have been more exciting then the Leafs Predators (Jan. 13).
Rick Grace, Saskatoon
Q: Yeah, I sure remember saying what a great game that was. Are you for real? Those of you who love fighting in the game love to accuse those like me who think fighting is a waste of time of disliking physical hockey. Nothing could be further from the truth. The more physical the game, the better I like it. In fact, one of the reasons I find fighting pointless is that it actually takes the hitting out of the game. All you have to see is the countless times this season when a player lays out a great check, and then immediately has to fight. Give me a big, tough team any day, if only because putting together a highly skilled squad like Detroit is so very difficult in a short period of time.
I just think the most intimidating thing in hockey is hitting, not fighting. If you think that dreadful Leafs-Predators game would have been more watchable with a couple of fights, well, I guess the best advice I can give you is to go watch ultimate fighting. Then you don’t have to let hockey get in the way of your obvious thirst for violence.
I want to ask a question that follows up on your mail bag from January 15 where you mention the rarity of trades in the NHL post-lockout. I agree with everything you said on the matter, and also with the assertion that the FA period in the summer is when most action happens. But is it really so simple as to say the cap is to blame for the lack of trades? My logic behind asking that question may be convoluted, so bear with me.
In the salary cap era, GMs have proven more than willing to hand out long-term, over-valued contracts that almost always come back to haunt them in one way or another but those same GMs are afraid to make trades due to the cap. I get that once a bad contract is signed, you have little recourse to offload it; so I guess my question is: why are GMs still so willing to hand out such huge contracts, especially when they know that there is virtually no remedy for them if it turns out to be a bad signing? Do the existing GMs have the wherewithal to work with a cap other than during the summer when they seem to work on the logic “I have $x to spend, so I’ll spend it all on player a, b or c”? Is there no creativity or foresight to the decisions of the GMs? Any thoughts?
Tree Q., Ottawa
A: Well, for starters, I wouldn’t throw all GMs into one basket. Some handle the cap very effectively, some not at all. The Dustin Penner signing by Edmonton seemed to scare teams into thinking they had to lock up their best young players for a long, long time, so you saw a series of incredibly long term deals handed out to players like Alex Ovechkin, Mike Richards, Vinny Lecavalier and, of course, Rick DiPietro. Teams are generally spending either up to the $56.7 million cap or up to their own self-imposed budget cap. Either way, when they make a deal, they want the dollars to even out, and that seems to be chilling the trade market.
Q: Hey Damien,
What with all the discussion about Doug Gilmour's number being honoured in a few weeks, I thought Darren Dreger made a good point the other day: why not Rick Vaive? Captain of the team, seven seasons with thirty goals or more including three with fifty. If I'm not mistaken he still has the single-season record for goals scored and was probably the victim of Ballard's most sinister move when he was traded away just so he wouldn't reach 300 goals with the team. Is there some reason why MLSE is reluctant to honour him?
David Smith, Toronto
A: I don’t know of any such reason. Vaive wasn’t as popular as Gilmour or Wendel Clark, but he was popular, a captain and a big-time goal scorer. If those two are being honoured, my belief is that he should be as well. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Vaive and Tiger Williams, both of whom wore 22, honored at the same time somewhere down the line.
Q: Hi Damien,
You always right insightful blogs, even if I disagree you once and a while, you succeed in making readers think.
Anyways, my question/comment relates to your post on Vincent Lecavalier. You said that the Joe Thornton deal didn't have an affect on the team the B's have today. I disagree. By Boston ridding themselves of Thornton's contract, and letting 2/3 players go from that deal via FA or minor trade, - they were able to get another superstar with the allocated cash, Mr. Zdeno Chara. In my opinion, Chara is who brings that team together, and without that deal, - they would be a very different team. So who is to say that Tampa can't do the same thing?
I think, assuming there is a deal to be done - is more then just about the talent in the deal. It's about flexibility, and teams should look at this what they get outside of the deal itself. Who knows, maybe down the line Tampa can do something similar to what Boston did and become a contender again.
Graham Jack, Ottawa
A: I’m not sure that’s an accurate portrayal of what I said. What I said was that the Bruins didn’t shop Thornton around, and therefore most believe they didn’t maximize their returns. Certainly, the objective of the deal was to move Thornton as a means of strengthening the roster, not to clear cap space to sign Chara. However, if there was a benefit to letting Big Joe go, it was that it seems unlikely that Marc Savard would have been willing to sign with Boston if Thornton was still ensconced as the No. 1 centre. Now, Savard might be a Hart Trophy candidate, so perhaps its true that the departure of Thornton had an indirectly positive result.
As far as Tampa goes, my guess is they would trade Marty St. Louis rather than Lecavalier, but St. Louis has a no-trade clause in his deal while Lecavalier doesn’t, at least not yet. The point of moving Lecavalier would be to save the owners money short-term and to add futures to make the club better over time. Certainly, dumping Lecavalier in the hopes that some player might come along sometime in the future and you could pay that player the money you’re paying Lecavalier now doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Getting to the salary cap floor now, as L.A. did this season, and then waiting until a young team starts to mature before spending on free agents and expensive players can be a sensible strategy. But every team is different, and it’s hard to compare Boston circa December 2005 with Tampa Bay right now.
Every Thursday, Damien Cox answers your questions in The Spin, only at thestar.com.
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